"A way of life that was never to return."

Photo by Rita Denman

Elm Grove School celebrated its Centenary in 1993. The informative booklet that was published by the school for the centenary gives some interesting facts. When the present primary school building in Elm Grove was first occupied on the 19th June 1893, 304 mixed infants transferred from Bentham Road School. On 1st October 1906 Elm Grove Junior Mixed Department opened in Wellington Road.

Double sessions with St. Luke’s
During 1916, Elm Grove had to work double sessions with St Lukes Terrace School as that had been taken over for a military hospital and this continued until 1920. In the reorganisation in 1928, the Infants Department moved to Wellington Road the 7 – 11 year olds occupied the bottom floors of the building in Elm Grove, and the Secondary Girls were on the top floor. The Secondary Boys Department was dispersed to other schools in the area.

Arriving at the Junior School
This was the situation when I moved from the Infants to the Junior School in 1936. Although it was a large building, the interior design was so arranged, that the younger children for the first two years were on the ground floor, and older junior pupils were on the first floor. A mezzanine floor where a lofty and spacious assembly hall was built separated the two floors. There was a slope up to the hall from the ground floor and stairs with a small gallery down to the hall from the first floor. Part of the ground floor corridor was lined with tall cupboards. There were glass doors to the top half of the bookcases on which were displayed posters declaring that ‘Cleanliness is Next to Godliness’ and ‘Manners Maketh Man’.

The new routine
My first Teacher was Miss Clarke who soon had us settled into the new routine. Monitors were chosen for giving out books and pencils, and I was chosen as flower monitor. On Monday mornings it was my duty to put any flowers that children brought into a jam jar of water. Mostly they were wild flowers gathered over the weekend already drooping the buttercups having lost their petals. In Spring sticky buds appeared, and at some point in the term we all grew a broad bean in a jam jar with water and blotting paper.

Mr Hughes the Headmaster
Mr Hughes the Headmaster, was a kindly father figure who nevertheless could be stern when occasion required and did not hesitate to administer the ultimate deterrent of ‘the strap’. His somewhat portly figure always sported a white waistcoat with a gold watch and chain. It was his habit to tour the classrooms in the morning checking with the teacher and having a word with the class. Sometimes he commented on attendance, and if it was raining observed that it was no excuse for absenteeism and that we were not made of sugar and would not dissolve following this up with an explanation of dissolving and melting. One of his regular visual jokes was to draw on the blackboard, a weathervane with the N for north upside down and ask the class to spot the mistake.

Absence from school
Absence from school was not tolerated except on medical grounds and after registration the man from ‘The School Board’ called on homes of absentees to find out the reason. In my home the ‘School Board Man’ was regarded with great awe, and we dared not even be out of bed if we were at home feeling unwell.

Hymns and prayers
The whole school assembled in the hall regularly for hymns and prayers. We learned psalms and long bible passages without realising it. Mr Hughes said the even numbered verses and the pupils the odd numbered verses. By repetition the top classes knew it all by heart and the young ones coming in soon picked it up. Mr Hughes was very keen on singing. We learned the melodies by the tonic solfa method, Mr Hughes beating the time with a long cane. Hymns, traditional songs and classic pieces were all part of our repertoire.

Learning to swim
As soon as we were settled in to junior school we were given the opportunity to learn to swim. For several weeks we practised the breaststroke in the hall. Lying across forms with arms and legs free we tried the arm movements and then the leg movements finally combining the two. Eventually we were considered proficient in dry land swimming and marched in crocodile fashion to St Luke’s swimming baths, with our bathers and hats rolled up in a towel. The smell of the chlorine took our breath away. The girls who wore knitted bathing costumes were weighed down with water. I must have been away sick when the first visit to the swimming bath was made and joined the class on the second visit. I had not seen such a large pool of water before and didn’t realise the deceptive appearance of the depth. We were told to sit around the edge at the shallow end and asked who would volunteer to ‘slide’ in. No one volunteered and as it looked so easy I put up my hand. Disaster followed as the bottom was further away than I thought and I floundered underwater all instruction about swimming forgotten. Suddenly a pole appeared within my reach. I clutched the pole for dear life and was hauled to safety eyes stinging and with all confidence in the water gone forever. At that time there were no armbands, no floats and the teacher fully clothed gave instruction from the side. I was hailed with applause and told how brave I was but I felt more foolish than heroic.

Open Day
Everyone looked forward to Open Day when parents and relatives came to watch us in class and inspect the art work and examples of writing and arithmetic that had been chosen to line the walls. At the end of the Autumn term a temporary stage was put up in the hall and an entertainment was rehearsed each class providing an item. We all received a commemorative mug and a medal on a ribbon for the Coronation of King George VI.

A third of a pint of milk
A third of a pint of milk in a glass bottle was provided every day. The cardboard disc in the top with a push out hole for the straw is a well remembered feature of those times. The milk was usually enjoyed but when it had been standing in the summer heat it was less enjoyable and in very cold winter weather it was sometimes frozen into a block. The boys’ and girls’ playgrounds were separate. In each playground there was a shelter to use in inclement weather. This was built against a side wall with a slate roof and a long bench running along the back. The lavatories were outside but so were the lavatories in most of the surrounding terraced homes so we didn’t feel deprived. Every so often a fresh load of gravel was put down on the playground and for weeks it was advisable not to fall over as the loose gravel claimed many casualties who had to be treated with iodine and bandaged up. If the ground was smooth the girls took whip and top for playtime and skipping rope in season, or a ball. There were some good walls for ball playing. Over arm, under arm around your back, under leg, bounce on the ground, the variations were endless. I loved to sit on the ground, back against the wall and look up at the sky until it seemed that the school was falling over.

Race days
We went home early on race days to avoid the crowds. In autumn we crunched through the fallen leaves from the huge old Elm trees and later with great sadness we watched the Elm trees being felled. We saw the end of the trams and beginning of the trolley buses, and by the time we had reached the top class of the juniors the Second World War was imminent.

Declaration of war
The newspapers and the cinema newsreels were full of the talk of war. Most families had access to a wireless as it was known powered by an accumulator which had to be taken to be recharged or by a relay system. The children were very aware of the grave situation. The solemn tones of the newsreader Stewart Hibberd struck fear into my young life. Air raid shelters were dug in the playground and we practised leaving the classrooms and lining the corridors sitting cross-legged against the wall bending forward with our hands over our heads. Gas masks were issued together with a cardboard box with a string for carrying it over the shoulder. The see through panel in the gas mask had to be smeared with soap. Great hilarity was caused during gas mask practise in class when the rubber sides made ‘whoopie cushion’ noises as they vibrated to our breathing. At home billeting officers toured the area making arrangements for host families to receive children to be evacuated from London. On Friday September 1st the evacuees arrived. The declaration of war on September 3rd ended a way of life that was never to return.

by Rita Denman nee Cooper
sent to website by e-mail on 15-06-04

Comments about this page

  • Great piece, my nan went to this school during the war. She once mentioned that a german fighter strafed the school with machine gun fire. Im not sure how accurate her story is though.

    By Sean Clark (24/06/2004)
  • In reply to Sean, his Nan’s memory is correct. I can confirm that a lone German fighter plane flew down the route of Elm Grove machine gunning as it came. I was with a friend in the Grove at the time, opposite the school at lunchtime, and on the way home from my school – Brighton Intermediate – and had to take cover in a hurry. I’m not sure of the year but probably around 1943/4.

    By Rita Denman (05/07/2004)
  • I go to this school but I am in year five. This page is a really good page and I wish I could make a page like that but I cannot do it.

    By Hannah Camp-Parris (04/09/2004)
  • I am in year 7 and I use to go to Elm Grove School. It is a very kind and homely school and I miss all the teachers very much. I think this page is very interesting and takes a very clever person to make such an amazing page.

    By Stephanie King (27/10/2004)
  • The above article brought back a flood of memories. I attended both the infant and junior school from 1944 until 1950 and it is my final year group photograph which appeared in the centenary booklet. The classes seem very large in comparison to those of today. I think headmaster Hughes was in his final year during my first year in the junior school. He was followed by Mr Cashmore who was a, I think, a Lancastrian. The Mr Hughes I remember was our final year teacher and came to Elm Grove from Moulsecomb School. I remember we won the choral cup at the Brighton music festival in, I think, 1949/50. Does anyone remember the policeman who used to see us across the road? We used to call him “Billy Bones” and if we were good he’d show us his handcuffs and trucheon. A pity those patrols went because we all looked upon him as our special friend. I seem to remember Miss Roust (if thats how you spell it was the school)secretary and some other names of teachers were, Mr Wood (who had quite a good singing voice), Miss Stock, Mr White, Mr Lindley, Miss Puttock, Mrs Curry, Miss StGeorge, Miss Waby and Miss Clarke mentioned above. The school dinners were pre-cooked and delivered in the early morning and kept warm in containers heated by warm water. When served up at lunch time they were revolting! My mother was a pupil of the school as well and as a very little boy I remeber being taken to see Miss Reddish who was Elm Grove’s first headteacher.

    By Jim Bolter (07/02/2005)
  • I went to this school it was a great school and I learnt a lot while I was there. I’m now at Dorothy Stringer High School and I love it here , but not as much as I loved Elm Grove. If you want to send your children anywhere send them to Elm Grove.

    By Kirsty Butterworth (17/05/2005)
  • I loved this school – I have got such good memories. My favourite teacher was Mr Betts – he was a science teacher – and also my form teacher. I remember that sometimes if we misbehaved in class he’d sometimes take us out to the play ground to play stool ball. I also remember the school’s ghost we used to think it was up in the old bell tower. We never did see it! They were fun days . All my family went to the school as far back to 1933 and my youngest daughter left ther 3 years ago. Great page – thanks

    By Sharron (25/05/2005)
  • Elm Grove is a great school. I am now in Year Seven at Varndean and I love it here but I will never forget the friends and kind people I met at Elm Grove. I have great memories of it there and will never forget it.

    By Chelsey Jeffery (05/07/2005)
  • I went to Elm Grove between 1971-1979. I remember the stories of the ghost in the bell tower and a ghost in the dungeons under the school hall. I’m sure every generation will keep the story going. It was a fantastic school with lovely teachers. I remember Miss Skinner, Mrs Large, Mrs Geerts from the Infants school and Miss Rowles, Mr Betts, Mr Hawker and Mr Banks and Miss Cole from the Juniors. I had an accident down the gravel path between the two buildings and still have the scar and the broken nose to show for it! School dinners with the metallic water jugs and cups in different colours. I remember progressing to plastic cups!! The prefab class between the two schools was my class for a while, which is long gone! I remember the new hall and classes being built at the infants school but cannot for the life of me remember where we did P.E before it was built! I also remember the new playgrounds being built at the back of the school. My Mother and Father went to Elm Grove and my son has just finished his first year. It still has the same warm , friendly feel to it.

    By Carol Homewood (Applin) (10/08/2005)
  • Elm Grove was a wonderful school, the children were always so happy! I remember Miss Cole the Art teacher, her room was the best.

    By Pina (03-09-2005) (01/09/2005)
  • I am in year 6 and I am going to secondary school next year. Elm Grove is alright, I might miss it!

    By Marissa (11/11/2005)
  • I used to go here and was really quiet. I am now one of the more confident pupils in my class (Year 8 at Varndean) and am taking drumming lessons. The wonderful teachers at Elm Grove gave me that confidence. It is a great school and always will be!

    By Rosie Buck (04/01/2006)
  • I attended Elm Grove with my cousin, Rita Denman, in the very same years, leaving in 1937 to move with our family to Moulscoombe. I have two memories. Is there anyone out there that can recall the day some young lad got his head stuck between the iron bars in Elm Grove and the fire brigade cut them to free him?! Also, how about the tuck shop at Luther St and those carbonated drink bottles?

    By Ken Watkins (22/03/2006)
  • I love Elm Grove. I used to go there but now I go to Lewes Priory, it’s really good but I do miss Elm Grove.

    By Jazmin (14/05/2006)
  • It is hard to think of it now but there was a small run down coach garage at the top of Franklin Road which would have up to three Campins(former independent coach firm), coaches in it. This was pulled down to build the new buildings next to the “old” infants building.

    By Chris Young Elm Grove School 63 - 69 (26/05/2006)
  • Elm Grove is a great school, I have learned a lot there. I only have four weeks to go before I leave. I am definitely going to cry because I have such lovely friends there!

    By Marissa (06/07/2006)
  • My grandmother was an assistant mistress but I am not sure which Elm Grove school it was. She was there 1927-1928 and her name was May Gertrude Canton. If anyone has any information I would really appreciate it. Thanks.

    By Jan Finnis (08/07/2006)
  • Although I didn’t go to the Junior School, I spent five happy years in the Senior School. I remember the kindness shown by all the teachers and for the help they gave you if you didn’t understand a subject. Miss Alexander and Miss Butler, although strict, had your interests at heart. I became Head Girl in my Fifth Year and felt this to be a great honour. I was sorry when the school amalgamated with Margaret Hardy, although I had left by then.

    By Yvonne Taylor (23/10/2006)
  • I went to this school and would do anything to go back! I had amazing friends, everyone was so friendly and caring, the teachers were more like friends. I would love to go back and visit and will definitely be sending my kids there. Well I’m in year 11, so not quite that soon! Definitely send your kids to Elm Grove – it’s a peaceful, friendly, yet educational environment and I cry whenever I think of it as I miss it so much!

    By Kim Hall (17/01/2007)
  • I used to go to school here, I’m now in year 9 at Longhill, going into year 10. I’ll never forget the memories i’ve had here as well as the friends and teachers. I miss it so much.

    By Lola McCue (07/07/2007)
  • Wow! Hi all, I used to go to Elm Grove and I loved every second! It is amazing and all nice teachers!

    By Toxi Doyle (11/07/2007)
  • I went here. I am now going into year 11. I will never forget the kindness and support Elm Grove gave at all times. In year 10 I came back to Elm Grove for my work experience. I had a lovely time and hope to return soon.

    By Georgie Thomas (25/07/2007)
  • I was at school here during the 1970s – moved on to Margaret Hardy school at 11 – hated that. I remember Miss Large, Miss Cole, Mr Hughes the head. I remember the day he had died, it was very sad and the whole school in tears.  I was in school plays , cookery in the new prefab, long gone now. I remember the sloping playground, Miss Taylor’s class at the far end.  I remember the yearly Christmas cake competition in cookery. I remember the winding staircase to the head’s room, the cane for the boys only, the huge bell which I often got the chance to ring.

    By Val Harber (nee Hall) (02/09/2007)
  • I loved Elm Grove. It is a legend school.

    By Daisy Mae (06/09/2007)
  • I used to go to Elm Grove, it was a great school with great teachers like Mr Platts and Mr Prosser. They have left now but they really helped me loads and I learned lots from them.

    By Natalie Deeley (06/03/2008)
  • I remember these days!! I was there from 1990, I think, untill around ’96. Best teachers I could ever have. I forget most names but Mr Prosser rings a bell, Miss Simpson, Miss Burgess, and Miss West, good times.   I wonder where they are now?

    By Greg Weaver (08/05/2008)
  • Hi, I went to Elm Grove Seniors, I was first at Fairlight but we joined up with Elm Grove. Think it was about 1962 approx. I stayed there till finally leaving school. I remember Miss Butler the head. Had a good time there and cried when I left. I remember a few mates names like Carol Ayling, Jacky Batchelor and Yvonne Fawden.

    By Glynnis Hazlewood (nee Gunn) (11/06/2008)
  • I loved Elm Grove School. I was there 1981 approximately, and made many good friends. I often think where they are now and what they are up to? I loved Mr Betts; I had him as a teacher for two years… wish I could go back!

    By Mark Foster (04/07/2008)
  • I used to go to Elm Grove in the 1990s. Happy times. I remember Mr Prosser and Miss West. Great times, they helped me learn a lot and were great teachers.

    By Kirsty Butterworth (17/10/2012)
  • It is comforting to read these facts about Mr Hughes and dear Elm Grove School. I lived at 91 Elm Grove, which was knocked down for the extension of the school. We were living there from 1935 until 1948. At lunch time, my mum would pop over to the bakers (Giggins) for an halfpenny bread roll, and pass it through the railings. The back of the domestic room ran alongside our back garden, where the girls were being taught cooking. There was an old apple tree on our side, and they often called over for me to “chuck” them an apple.

    By Charlie Bull (17/06/2019)

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